Dec 17, 2015

Chronicles of a parisian Brand Strategist in San Francisco

The Californian “NO-branding”

San Francisco, city of revolutions, birthplace of new social models, new trends turned mainstream or more recently of the world’s first global commitment on emissions from the Zero Waste city… This was all it took for brands to also enter the fray. The change is now and it’s here, far from the agenda of Old Europe...

At the heart of this city which is continually questioning the future of usage and social norms, brands have no choice but to offer products that chime with these values and new attributes. From mass market goods to niche products, there is no escaping the fact that the No is king! There isn’t a single product without some kind of No- label or other…

In the list of usual suspects we have NO-toxins: no parabens, no artificial fragrance, no oil or no artificial flavours or preservatives or even no GM. In the healthiest city in the US, NO-nutrition means everyone can have a say when it comes to their own dietary aspirations and can opt for no gluten, no milk, no refined sugar, no hydrogenated fat or no allergens.

More surprising still has been the emergence of a new type of category that questions a brand’s production methods or moral compass, the NO-clean conscience. We were all aware of the ‘not tested on animals’ label but even more original ones are now entering the mainstream. The not imported, not more than 100 km, does not harm the planet, no industrial processing and no frustrated animals are all bold stances adopted by local brands. Some brands even go as far as making this “no” part of their branding to position themselves as alternative solutions that go against the conventional approach.

Far away from the NO-branding movement, these uses of ‘NO’ resonate like the affirmation of a potential new order. This proclamation of NO marks the start of a more responsible, transparent and involved attitude by brands. This means tangible and concrete commitments that aim to win back the trust of mistrustful consumers. Whereas in the 2000s, we were bombarded with all kinds of superlatives and additives, today it’s the less is more approach that is trying to meet the aspirations of modern consumers.

Unlike France and Europe where no and without are synonymous with taking things out, making people feel guilty and doing without, Californian design embodies a positive no which places the emphasis on taking back control in the face of a world that is slipping away and the enjoyment people have of eating products that are local/organic/healthy or for a vegan/paleo diet with a clear conscience.

So what does San Francisco have to do with all this you ask? Everything! This city, once the centre of the hippie movement, is now an open-air laboratory, where not a day goes by without a new start-up or crazy project being launched. These are open-minded, unprejudiced people who simply want to change the world. What better environment for a brand than these in vivo tests on a target that is willing to pay more for alternative offerings that are looking ahead to the society of tomorrow.

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